“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” — Confucius
Perfect advice with which to begin, despite an overabundance of artful phrases on the wonders of travel. Having myself voyaged both near and afar at different periods in my life, I still marvel at how deeply and irrevocably travel alters me. Naturally, analogies abound on this transformative process, how this external journey holds itself up as a mirror to our internal one. It’s the proverbial “long and winding road” that each of us must navigate.
I’m always intrigued by people’s “Holy Grail” destinations, too — those special places that stir the imagination, fill the heart, and lift the spirit so that we may find our wings and go! I don’t recall when I discovered this, but more than any other place I can think of, my Grail has been Italy. And when I finally stood on the little narrow streets of Firenze, with my feet on the ground and my heart in my throat, I felt an astounding consciousness develop. Through the darkness of a night flight that led into a new day, I had been transported simultaneously into two worlds.
In one existence I was heading into a new future, along with everyone else around me, the sun tracking time in its repeating and inherently endless course through the sky. In the other, I became deeply aware of the palpable nearness of history, how it surrounded us and breathed its name from every stone. I didn’t know what I had come to Italy to find, but I knew that I was on the right road.
It was a cautious exploration, those first tentative hours with my feet on the ground. On the way to finding the famous Duomo di Firenze, part of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower), the main church of Florence, I came upon the above. The Cappella dei Principi (Chapel of the Princes) is one of the two chapels built here in the 16th and 17th centuries to celebrate the powerful Medici family.
I’m sure to repeat myself, but it’s quite impossible to ignore that the light in Italy is a magical thing. My eyes could not stop greedily taking in the colours of Tuscany, and although at first I did not realize it, I was already immersed and floating down this river of history.
To turn the corner and behold this for the first time! Could not breathe, could not move. Construction for the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore and its enormous dome of the Duomo di Firenze began in 1296. Face to face with history again. Yes, something whispered, this indeed was going to be a transformative experience. And the journey had only just begun.
As a child, my family uprooted itself and crossed an ocean, not to see the sights of a new land, but rather in the hopes of a better future. This story is not new, I know; set in motion by necessity, various means of technology, and sheer courage, it remains one of the enduring undercurrents of humanity through the ages. The journey undertaken has usually been to new and unknown lands, often following the direction of the sun’s relentless path, hoping for a better place. And yet, equally important is the opportunity to look back, to step into the places from which history sprang and begin to understand the paths we chose and the roads we built toward the future.